I have a huge respect for farmers. As individuals they have better work ethic than most, a good sense of humor, and a sense of realism that few others have. When I reflect on the friends I’ve had over the years, the easiest ones to get along with and develop respect for are the farmer’s kids.
Many of us have heard about the shortage of farmers. Some sources say 1 percent, others say 2 percent of the American population (likely higher percentage in any other country with arable land—so we’ll exclude city-states like Hong Kong and Singapore) earn a living cultivating the land. Although major agribusinesses stir strong emotions in the political sphere, I like to think about the actual overseeing-the-tractors-and-monitoring-tomorrow’s-weather guy (and I like to use the word “guy” as gender neutral).
Starting out as a farmer in the modern age is next to impossible. There are not many large chunks of land that can be utilized that hasn’t been utilized. Crop agriculture in particular is expensive because of out-front costs for combines and other super-sized specialized vehicles. Fortunately some people in the industry have recognized that if most of the farmers are 60 years old, we’ll be out of farmers, and food, soon.
One offer to save the lifestyle is the Transition Incentives Program. This incentive encourages minorities, the “socially disadvantaged” (I’m not defining that, that’s just what the original source said), military veterans and beginner farmers to buy land transferred from an existing farm participating in the program, almost like a mentorship-apprenticeship relation without a relationship.
As an ecologist (as someone formally versed in ecology and not on professional pay grade), I like hearing about Conservation Reserve Program. The program has mandates to help prevent soil erosion, improve water quality and boost wildlife traffic i.e. restore habitat. The farmer may plant certain species of native grasses or trees to protect top soil and filter run-off that would otherwise contaminate the water supply at greater concentrations. Then the government compensates financially and, hopefully, in the long run the community—human and non—will be better for it.
The Conservation Reserve Program has 10- to 15-year contracts, but with the Transition Incentives Program, the transferred land gains monetary compensation for an additional two years as the new land owner continues the sustainability practices.
The Transition Incentives Program, as of the 2014 Farm Bill, has a $33 million budget, which is 30 percent more than the previous budget, in case any of you are concerned with how the Department of Agriculture pays for this.